Our vaterland is easing Corona restrictions resiliently and determinedly as we move toward the 5th week of isolation. Not that life has been harsh in beautiful Bavaria. Until I’m at the local grocery store where everyone wears and breaths through masks like Darth Vader, I would not know that there is a health crises. My morning walks continue, and I still hold appointments with clients. Life has continued relatively unscathed in our small Bavarian community. Our Corona angst was several decibels lower than everyone else’s.
Thanks to Frau Merkel, we expect some businesses to open by April 20th, and high schools to open by the first week in May. Large gatherings are still banned until August. I think the latter is putting a damper on things more than any other restriction. Oktoberfest normally kicks off end of September, and soccer season is in full swing come June; a quandary for organizers of these large events. Lest we forget; beer fests, outdoor concerts, and wine fests are staples for any decent German enjoying the summer. But Germans have taken everything in their stride with discipline and determination that prompted Frau Merkel to give everyone a pat on the back for a job well done.
As we move forward toward normalcy or semblance thereof, I reflect and opine on the rapid government decision to lock us up. Fear and mass hysteria mostly fueled by the media and cable news “experts” prompted politicians to react lest they are thought of being complacent. But not everyone followed suit. Sweden was the lonely reed that held out in favor of self determination. The Swedish government decided to “appeal to the common sense” of its people. That’s a tall order. They requested social distancing, working from home, refraining from unnecessary travel, and school closures for a few extra weeks. Restaurants and other services remained open with an appeal to keep customers apart. Very civilized. Very gemutlichkeit as the Germans would say.
Marlene Riedel, Communications Officer for the European Council on Foreign Relations, and a Swede living in Berlin, misses her country right now. Back home she would be enjoying life. Marlene has some interesting observations on Sweden. It seems that Swedes unlike their Southern EU cousins refrain from handshaking or any intimate gestures so familiar in other European countries. As she so aptly put it, Swedes practice distancing all their lives. They are not prone to large gatherings not even families, and even on bus stops they keep their distance. The majority of Swedes already work from home. But Sweden’s Nordic neighbors are not amused. Sweden has been called naïve, slow, and crazy. One impassioned Danish journalist went as far as calling Sweden a “horror movie” ready to happen. But Sweden kept its course. Sweden to date has about the same reported cases as its neighbors and the same number of deaths, but they did not find it necessary to close down the economy. Although the jury is still out, it remains scathingly remarkable how the Swedish government decided to stand by its own scientific and health advisors rather than by “political considerations”. Translation: they prefer their own judgment to being pushed by a political agenda . Sweden has balls! (Pardon the pun).
Let’s face it, this year is shot to shit. Economies are now crap and forget about sunny beaches anywhere. Our lives have been put on hold. Will our lives ever return to normal? What I find disturbing is how we easily allowed governments to take over our lives and civil liberties without resistance. A little perspective is in order. The CDC reports that since 2010, between 9 million and 45 million Americans have been infected by the annual flu epidemic. 140,000-810,000 Americans have also been hospitalized with the flu in the same time frame. The 2017-2018 flu season killed 61,000 Americans. The 2014-2015 flu season killed 51,000 Americans. No angst at any time. No quarantine, no social distancing, no economic closures, and no panic. As a matter of fact since 2010, except for the appeal to the public to be vaccinated against the flu, life went on as usual. So what changed? What red button was pushed to detain us? Have we set a precedent? Are we going to lock countries up every time some asshole sets a virus loose?
Reports from China were frightening on several levels. Besides lying to the world, Chinese authorities went as far as locking down Wuhan citizens without cause relying only on “suspicion” of being infected. Locking up meant barricading people in their own homes. Most were dragged out of homes to be tested and then locked up. Neighbors snitched on neighbors. Images of people resisting authorities should get a rise out of us. Are we okay with that? Do we really want our government to poke and test us without our consent to “protect” us? Are we prepared to be locked in our homes without recourse? Are we prepared to give up our basic civil liberties every time a flu or unknown disease hits our shores? If we did it for Corona why not for influenza? It kills more people. Are we prepared for mandatory vaccinations, examinations, testing, and prodding when the next virus angst hits us?
Governments and politicians reacted to political pressure. At the end of the day votes matter. I’m sure that after the world settles down the finger pointing will start in earnest.
Donald G. McNeil Jr of The New York Times is a science and health reporter specializing in plagues and pestilence. In a March 26th article he scathingly outlined what went wrong with the US response to the virus. The New York Times is not one of my favorite newspapers, but I went to the dark side and found light.
Mr. McNeil outlined a few facts succinctly. The US is the 3rd most populated country in the world with approximately 337 million people. The potential for a virus to spread is greater than other countries. But some failings could have been avoided. Trump’s calm denial followed by incoherent and mixed messages failed to give any precise guidelines or the extent of the situation. This was further compounded by the drastic shortage of protection equipment, to include masks. The country also lacked adequate testing and was caught with its pants down so to speak. Mr. McNeil spreads the blame equally among politicians who in February were more concerned with impeaching Trump, putting Harvey Weinstein behind bars, Brexit, and Climate Change. But if Trump had given even one second of his attention to the virus which by February had already killed hundreds of people in Italy, I am certain he would have been accused of attempting to deflect from his impeachment trial.
At this point I must also add that until March 8th, Governor Cuomo of New York still refused to outline any guidelines. In an interview on FNC Sunday Morning Futures, he told Maria Bartiromo that there was no reason for panic, as the few cases appeared in Westchester county were “a cluster”. He did not predict any similar problem in NYC, plus he wanted to avoid panic at all costs. How did that work out Governor?
We will soon enter into the could have, should have, would have, phase of politics especially as we slowly move toward the US general election in November. The circus will soon come to town with accusations and second guessing, each side throwing blame like flame throwers at a street festival. I doubt that had it been someone else in the White House they would have done any better. Politicians on both sides have failed Americans miserably in health, education, and leadership. Americans have lost their trust in their government. But most important; Americans have lost their grit and ability to cope. A progressive social agenda has rendered the country impotent. Panic has replaced logic. Politics has replaced common sense. Sensationalism has replaced journalism. Opinion has replaced truth. Yes, it’s going to be interesting the post Corona era. Some politicians will rise while others will fall. Will we be better prepared the next time some idiot lets loose another viral crap? Who knows, but I doubt it.
I am not ashamed to admit that being isolated in Bavaria is not a hardship. Inconvenient at times but nothing major. No unnecessary angst. No panic at grocery stores. No fighting for toilet paper. An abundance of beer and wine sooths the Bavarian temperament adequately. As I sit in the garden with a nice glass of wine a smirk escapes my lips: it doesn’t get better than this.